14.06.2016 : Tom Comley

How to motivate and engage young professionals

We all know a good leader can bring out the best in people, so what is the key to motivating and engaging young professionals and creating an environment for them to be successful?

We all know a good leader can bring out the best in people, but have you ever found yourself dealing with a leader who brought out the worst instead? What did they need to do differently to better engage and motivate their team?

I recall many years ago, whilst studying at university, I held a part-time job as a night fill worker in my local supermarket and a manager had just started. This guy could’ve been mistaken for a drill sergeant the way he gave us orders throughout the night. There was no subtlety about it, if he didn’t like you or the way you worked, he let you know about it…and perish the thought if you waited for a please or a thank you from him. Thankfully he didn’t last long in the role, but he did leave a trail of damage, dropping morale to an all-time low and causing staff to leave. He never understood what motivated and inspired his staff to work for him.

Things are a bit different these days. I’ve completed my engineering degree and I’m lucky enough to be working in a professional office environment. Beca is a very people-oriented business – we understand that people are our most valuable asset.

 At Beca’s recent graduate conference (a two-day event for first year graduates in Australia and New Zealand), myself and a team of six other graduates – Carey Lintott, Manon Tabak, Hitakshi Shridhar, Akshat Malhotra, Nipuna Mohottige and Sam Berry-Smith – discussed the leadership characteristics that motivate and engage us as young professionals, and help create an effective environment for us to be successful. We identified three aspects:

Inspiration
Inspiration is an asset of great leaders. It’s one of the most important factors that keeps us motivated at work. Beca is filled with experienced, knowledgeable and well respected staff who are happy to provide advice to younger staff (even over a Friday beer). Hearing about what your colleagues have achieved throughout their career can be one source of inspiration, but is that sufficient to lead you to transformation?

Good leaders share their vision with us, build it with us and include us as part of it. It’s this outlook to a better, brighter future that inspires and motivates us to strive for success.

It’s the positive outlook and happy workplace that our leaders create which inspires us. Personally, I’m happy to see senior engineers, associates and technical directors getting around the office with a smile on their face and interacting with people of all career levels. They create a positive energy around the workplace and prove that you don’t have to work yourself to the bone to progress your career.

Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is a complex topic, worthy of an article of its own, but what it boils down to is the ability to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions. It’s also the ability to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. This means not losing your cool when something goes wrong, which is something my old night fill manager definitely never had a handle on! Someone with high emotional intelligence can diffuse a situation calmly, by recognising how each party is feeling and not involving their own emotions.

Good leaders can create a successful environment by displaying and encouraging emotional intelligence in little ways every day. From staying in tune with your workload and helping mitigate unnecessary stress, to simply asking you how your weekend football game went. They can also connect on another personal level and use their emotional intelligence to provide constructive feedback. This helps build a warm environment where individuals feel important and included – quite a different story to the hard, distant style of leadership my night fill manager took all those years ago.

Open-mindedness
In order for staff to feel motivated and strive for success, they have to feel like they’re doing more than following orders. That’s where openness and a willingness to listen comes in. Having your leaders visible and approachable in the office and willing to listen to your input on problems, creates an environment where you feel like you’re more than just a number.

This is another aspect that my previous manager never excelled in. We’d show up for a night’s work, get our orders and he’d hide away in his office doing the easy work for the rest of the night. He was never visible or approachable, and definitely didn’t want to hear your new idea on how to improve the department.

A contrasting example is at a recent business planning day for the section in my current job, where a senior engineer was involved in the early stage concept design of a tourist attraction. We held a design competition to see what new ideas we could come up with, where the senior staff specifically, and unprompted, made an effort to ask the juniors for their ideas and input. In an environment like this, we, as young professionals, are not afraid to speak up and offer a unique perspective to a problem.

I wonder now how different those night fill shifts might have been if my manager had taken these ideas on board. These three attributes can enable a leader to motivate and engage us to be the very best we can. They keep us happy with our current job and looking forward to the next one. The environment they create is a rich one allowing the staff to remain positive, motivated and striving for success. I believe it is this environment that not only attracts young professionals, but retains them and breeds success for them and their company.

What do you find in your leaders that motivates and engages you?
About the Author

Tom Comley

Structural Engineer

Tom is a structural engineering graduate from The University of Adelaide, in South Australia. He joined our Christchurch office in January 2016, after an inspiring study tour to the city in 2015 where he learned about the Canterbury earthquakes, the rebuild effort and the basics of earthquake engineering. Outside of work, he enjoys everything New Zealand has to offer, including mountain sports, travel and the picturesque scenery.

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Andrew C · 14/06/2016 6:27:51 p.m.
Well done Tom. Great presentation very professional and very accurate. Coming from a professional environment I identified the points that you and your team raised and from my experience you are right on the money a great company is built with great people it's number one asset!!